The European Union and Relationships
Since funding will inevitably decrease,
the status of North / South relations in a European context faces
some uncertainty. Commenting on the "chiefly economic"
benefits of EU membership, Peter Bell of the Northern Ireland
Office concluded it was doubtful the EU "could play a significant
political role in the Province for the time being" (Bell,
1993; p32). Although economic benefits will decrease in the future,
European integrationists believe it will be EU structures which
help transform relationships between Northern Ireland and the
Republic of Ireland.
The trading relationships between European
members have changed radically since the introduction of the single
European market in 1992. The act significantly reduced the relevance
of political borders by implementing free trade. This act is
sure to increase trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland,
a relationship which has been historically dismal. While the
Republic has been reducing its proportion of trade with Britain
in the last forty years Northern Ireland remained, until recently,
heavily dependent on trade with other parts of the UK. "Estimated
figures for 1990 are that some £6,000 million worth of goods
manufactured in Northern Ireland some £4,000 million were
exported, but of these some £2,000 million went to Great
Britain and only about £400 million to the Republic; almost
double that amount, some £750 million, was exported from
the Republic to Northern Ireland (Boyle and Hadden, 1994; p141).
Kevin Boyle and Tom Hadden note that with the development of
the single European market, "this picture is changing rapidly.
There is now an increasing flow of goods and of capital across
the border" (Boyle and Hadden, 1994; p141).
In the future, further economic co-operation
across the border is likely as, "considerable efforts are
being made by the business community both to promote and develop
these cross-border trading and organisational links and also make
it clear that they are entirely independent and without any political
or constitutional implications" (Boyle and Hadden, 1994;
pp141-142). David Donoghue, then a member of Ireland's Department
of Foreign affairs, recognised the necessity of increased trading:
"As the search for markets becomes more intense, businessmen
in both parts of Ireland will realise that they simply cannot
afford to ignore a market on their doorstep" (Donoghue, 1993;
p20). It will clearly be in the interests of both economies to
increase trade between the two regions and, in the long-term,
to establish a more mutually beneficial economic relationship.
The ending of economic custom controls
between Northern Ireland and the Republic also had the effect
of removing one particular physical manifestation of the border.
The removal of customs posts and custom officers from the 'approved'
border crossings changed the way people, north and south, viewed
and thought of the border.
Potential economic changes have increased
discussion on the possibility that all-Ireland economic developments
will also lead to all-Ireland political developments. Europe
finds its most enthusiastic supporters in Ireland, North and South.
This is due to a multiplicity of reasons, but certainly those
who identify themselves as Irish see that the diminishing importance
of the economic border may indeed have unifying political implications.
The governing party of the Irish Republic Fianna Fáil
submitted a statement to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation
The setting up of democratically mandated North-South institutions with executive powers is essential, both for practical reasons to serve common interests between North and South against the backdrop of the European Single Market, and for reasons of identity as a reflection of the Irish dimension. (Reynolds, 1995; p9-10)
David Donoghue predicted that, "with
more and more co-operation between North and South in the European
framework, and with steady progress which is being made towards
the European Union, the relevance of the border in a political
sense will also, in time, be diminished" (Donoghue, 1993;
p21). Popular Irish politician Garret FitzGerald wrote in 1972
that membership in the European Community would "likely be
uniformly directed towards that path to a united Ireland"
(Arthur, 1993; p56). Perhaps politicians learned over time to
avoid such blunt comments which were, and still are, of much concern
The pro-European stance of all the major
political parties in the Republic, and the Social Democratic and
Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland, has more to do with economic
concerns than with nationalist aspirations. Unionists however
were suspect of the motivies of John Hume and the SDLP because
Hume was, and is, the most prominent pro-European member of the
European Parliament. Yet, in the past, supporters of Sinn Féin
(SF) have argued that the pro-European stance of the SDLP would
lead them to "abandon the goal of a united Ireland"
(Guelke, 1993; p79). The argument that the Irish pro-European
status is a Trojan Horse to a united Ireland can also be diluted
by those who say Europe will lead to a politics of accommodation
in which both communities will find a common European identity.
This perspective is held by Richard Kearney, then Professor of
Philosophy at University College Dublin, in his book Postnationalist
Ireland. Kearney claims that in a new Europe borders will
cease to be important, and that, "Such a focus could help
modernise nationalist politics on the island in the process, away
from the traditional emphasis on border change and territorial
unity towards a stress on the unity of peoples, of 'hearts and
minds'" (Kearney, 1997; 87).
Kearney is not without critics. Jan
Erik Grindheim, then Professor of Comparative Politics University
of Bergen, contrasts Kearney's Euro-idealism stating,
If the Europe of the Regions shall succeed, a new European citizenship will have to be created. However, I do not believe this will happen on any broad base in Europe, nor do I think it will have any positive influence on the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is not possible to replace the British and Irish identities with a native or genuine identity [i.e. a unity of peoples hearts and minds], and a European identity will be hard to develop (Grindheim, 1993; p85).
In this statement, Grindheim highlights
the most fundamental reason for Unionist scepticism of the EU,
which is the issue of identity. There is a portion of the population
which believes their British identity is threatened by the evolution
of cross-border institutions. Despite the Irish desire to build
North and South structures, the extreme section of the unionist
population wishes to cut off ties to the Republic. In 1993, William
It is widely acknowledged that the principal goal of the loyalists in the talks that have been conducted off and on for the past several years is to weaken the little influence that the Dublin government now has through the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Lafferty, 1993; p52).
The Downing Street Declaration,
the New Framework for Agreement, and the current all-party
talks which led to Good Friday's Agreement have greatly
increased Ireland's involvement in Northern Ireland's affairs,
and assuredly will provoke more loyalist resentment to their involvement.
In 1985, following the signing of the
Anglo-Irish Agreement between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald of the British and Irish governments,
the Rev. Ian Paisley opened his morning church service in Belfast
praying, "Very solemnly right now we hand Mrs Thatcher over
to the devil that she might not learn to blaspheme" (Cooke,
1996; p1). It is unfair to align all unionists with the views
of Ian Paisley. His Free Presbyterian denomination is attended
by only a minority of people in a society with large numbers of
church attendees. But, it must be recognised that he is the leader
of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the third largest party
in Northern Ireland, and his theology of separation receives a
great deal of support when converted into a distinct political
philosophy. While in Church, Paisley asserted that the EU "challenged
the distinctive Christian moral standards of Northern Ireland,"
(Arthur, 1993; p59) in the political sphere he claimed, "the
whole aim of the community is to seek to weaken and eventually
destroy [Northern Ireland's] links with the rest of the United
Kingdom" (Arthur, 1993; p62).
The reasons for Euro-scepticism among
unionists should not be over simplified. Although the most excessive
objections to the EU are to be found in the DUP and various Loyalist
organisations, the largest party, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
also has its share of EU doubters. This section of unionism is
usually composed of those "who believe that the European
dimension is either irrelevant or is being used to further traditional
nationalist aims" (Guelke, 1993; p84). It is usually this
portion of the population which feels they have been poorly represented
by their leaders at Westminster and that they have not seen the
benefits of EU membership. Although both the North and the South
have received Objective One status, "one of the major priorities
[of EU spending] is to support areas of particular social and
economic need, and these are disproportionately inhabited by Catholics"
(Darby, 1993; p44). In the future it is possible that those
who have been politically sceptical of the EU will pragmatically
support economic developments by beneficial cross-border institutions.
It is the general support of the nationalist
community for the EU and the sometimes extreme scepticism on the
part of the unionist community which creates the possibility that
EU involvement in Northern Ireland affairs will only make divisions
deeper. Jan Erik Grindheim expanded this thought by writing,
we cannot be certain that the introduction of the European dimension, together with the question of self-determination and constitutional nationalism in Northern Ireland, will reduce the conflict between the two communities. Quite the contrary, it might reinforce the old cleavages (Grindheim, 1993; p84).
Grindheim makes a crucial point in observing
that extremists on both sides will not discriminate in their dislike
of those who seek to bring change contrary to their political
objectives. Pro-Europeans will, for example, surely feel pressure
from extreme elements within loyalism if they attempt to pursue
a political agenda which reflects issues regarding self-determination
and constitutional nationalism.
There are many uncertainties in trying
to predict the future impact of the EU on relationships between
the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. At least for the
short-term, it does not appear that the EU will do anything more
than affect the economic relationship between the two parts of
Ireland. In their book Northern Ireland: The Choice,
Kevin Boyle and Tom Hadden conclude that:
the European Union is unlikely in the immediate future to become an active participant in the creation of new constitutional structures for a place like Northern Ireland. It may be better to think of it as a framework within which the almost exclusive financial dependence of Northern Ireland on the British Exchequer may gradually be diminished, and more generally as a model for interstate co-operation on an open-ended basis without any clear constitutional objective in view (Boyle and Hadden, 1994; 148).
There appears to be enough pragmatic support for the EU to increase cross-border communication between the North and the South. The controversy arises in debating whether or not economical accommodation will be a stepping stone to political accommodation.
If current trends continue, the Catholic population of Northern Ireland is expected to exceed that of Protestants within the next thirty years. With a recognition from the British and Irish governments in a New Framework for Agreement that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to self-determination, it makes a united Ireland a possibility in the distant future. Perhaps it will be in this area that the European Union has its most prominent political impact. If the EU integration continues, then borders will become less relevant, and in the words of Richard Kearny, the nation state will be "leaking power both upwards and downwards to the regional level" (Kearney, 1997; p78). The loss of relevance of the border would not only transform the relationship of the North and the South, but would also create a new and positive bond between Britain and Ireland. Yet, this prospect for future co-operation might never escape the shadows of the Loyalist and Republican battle over their irreconcilable objectives. If the troubles continue, the power of Europe to assist a settlement in Northern Ireland will be stifled. Therefore, it will require creativity and openness on the part of both communities to seek political change in a European context.
1. It should be noted that more recently
Sinn Féin has become more open to the idea of European
involvement in a Northern Ireland political settlement.
Ardagh, John, Ireland and the Irish (London, Penguin Books, 1994)
Arthur, Paul, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Bell, Peter, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Boyle, Kevin and Tom Hadden, Northern Ireland: The Choice (London, Penguin Books, 1994)
Boyle, Kevin and Tom Hadden, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Cooke, Dennis, Persecuting Zeal (Kerry, Ireland, Brandon, 1996)
Donoghue, David, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Grindheim, Jan Erik, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Guelke, Adrian, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Kearney, Richard, Postnationalist Ireland (London, Routledge, 1997)
Lafferty, William, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
Lyderson, Bjorn and Harold Olav Skar, Northern Ireland: A Crucial Test for a Europe of Peaceful Regions? (Norway, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 1993)
O'Conner, Dr. E., Lecture at University of Ulster at Magee, February 2, 1998
O'Conner, Dr. E., Lecture at University of Ulster at Magee, February 9, 1998
O'Conner, Dr. E., Lecture at University of Ulster at Magee, March 9, 1998
Reynolds, Albert, Paths to a Political Settlement in Ireland (Belfast, The Blackstaff Press, 1995)
Sharp, Prof. Alan, Lecture at University of Ulster at Magee, February 23, 1998
Sharp, Prof. Alan, Lecture at University
of Ulster at Magee, March 23, 1998
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